Innovation, Experimentation Help Jeff Pittman Bring forth Bounty from the Land
Home-Grown SuccessInnovation and experimentation help Jeff Pittman bring forth bounty from the land By Tabitha Yang
Jeff Pittman has a field of sunflowers blazing a yellow path across his land. The flowers aren’t for decoration. They’re part of his most recent experiment — creating biodiesel. That’s right: He’s the kind of business-savvy farmer who grows his own sunflower and canola plants as a way to use less fossil fuel.
“That kind of innovative work is pretty profound in this era,” says Art Kimbrough, the president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
Pittman, 37, says he can create biodiesel for about $1.25 a gallon, which is pretty good when you think about the $3.92 per gallon that diesel fuel was fetching in October. And when you use 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year, as Pittman does, doing what you can to keep fuel costs low is key.
The fuel experiment is just one of many ways that Pittman is promoting good farming practices. The son of Jackson County Commissioner J. Milton Pittman, also a farmer, Jeff Pittman started farming full time after he graduated from high school and has been going strong ever since.
“I think everybody kind of looks at Jeff as one of the young, up-and-coming crop farmers,” says Doug Mayo, the acting county director for the Jackson County Extension. “He’s certainly one of our largest farmers, and there’s only a few in his generation that are farming at the level he is.”
Pittman grows corn, wheat, oats and other crops on his farm, in addition to raising cows. Over the past 10 years, new technology has enabled him to grow more while using less manpower.
“My father had six or seven employees farming 1,000 acres,” he recalls. Today, it’s a completely different story. “We farm 5,000 acres with three to four employees.”
It used to take three men on three separate plows one day to tackle the weeds on 100 acres of land. Now, it just takes one worker to spray herbicide on 750 acres of crops. Crops have been altered so they’re pest-resistant, eliminating the need to spray them with pesticides. This takes some of the risk out of farming, which is traditionally a risky business.
“We are at the mercy of the weather and a lot of things that are out of our control,” Pittman says.
Farming can be pretty challenging on the whole, and today more than ever, successful farmers need good business skills if they want to succeed.
“There are a lot of government programs in agriculture that you’ve got to be aware of and you’ve got to comply with,” Pittman notes. “You have to have people skills and management skills to maintain an operation such as this.”
When he’s not managing the farm, Pittman serves on a number of agriculture-related boards. He is the District 2 state director for the Florida Farm Bureau, president of the Jackson County Farm Bureau and a member of the American Farm Bureau Cotton and Peanut Advisory Committee. He is also a board member of the Jackson County Cattlemen’s Association and secretary/treasurer for the Florida Peanut Producers. He feels that it is important to communicate to the general public the important role that agriculture plays in the local economy. He’s also a member of Lovedale Baptist Church. He and his wife, Ginger, have three children: Jeffrey, 16, Mary Katherine, 12, and Wilton Grant, 7. Pittman likes to take time to go to their sporting events and the county livestock shows they participate in.
“I’m proud of my kids, my wife and my parents,” Pittman says. “To have an opportunity to stay on the farm and raise a family such as I have — I’m fortunate and blessed to have that opportunity.”